St. Louis Mosaic Project begins ambitious immigration initiative

6-21-13 St. Louis Business Journal

by Vince BrennanĀ 

The goal: Make St. Louis the fastest growing U.S. metro area for immigration growth by 2020.

It’s a lofty goal that the Immigration and Innovation Steering Committee has set, considering St. Louis is ranked 19th out of the 20 largest metro areas in the country, with 4.6 percent of the population being immigrants in 2011, according to U.S. Census data. The data showed more than 130,000 foreign-born immigrants living in the area, ranking 43rd in the nation among major metro areas.

But Betsy Cohen, project director for the Immigration and Innovation Initiative at the WTC St. Louis, said plans are being set to engage and grow the local immigrant population.

Titled the St. Louis Mosaic Project, the initiative will attract and target immigrants of all skill levels in hopes of growing the area’s foreign-born population, the local population and boosting economic development. With a tagline of “Regional prosperity through immigration and innovation,” the steering committee behind the initiative currently is creating its game plan to grow the immigrant population and connect it with current foreign born residents of St. Louis.

“We are targeting the immigrant community at the civi level, the education level and all levels of business,” Cohen said. “We are in the beginning stages of the plan, but we are workign to find common bonds that will make immigrants connect while making St. louis more welcoming.

The initiative officially began in June 2012 when the St. Louis Regional Immigration & Innovation Steering Committee was formed. Led by Co-Chairs Denny Coleman (CEO of the St. Louis Economic Development Partnership), Rodney Crim (president of the St. Louis Economic Development Partnership) and Joe Reagan (president and CEO of the St. Louis Regional Chamber), the 19-member steerign committee includes five subcommittees: analysis, business and government affairs, communications, infrastructure, and university engagement. In addition, more than 100 supporters and volunteers have signed on to support the initiative. The St. Louis County Economic Council made an initial investment of $200,000 in seed money to launch the initiative, Cohen said.

The committee’s first move was to commission a pair of studies, led by Saint Louis University Economics Chair and funded by a $50,000 grant from the Kemper Foundation. The first study showed how St. Louis would have more job creation and economic development if the area had a larger base of foreign born people.

The second study, “Immigration recommendations for the St. Louis region: How can we jump start growth,” which will be released June 27 at the St. Louis Regional Development Conference at the Danforth Plant Science Center, will detail several initiatives to help connect and grow the immigrant population in St. Louis. Cohen said that potential programs will use business, government, educational, social and cultural resources that the area already has to connect area immigrants. Cohen, who was hired three months ago to lead the initiative, did not detail specific plans and said a budget has not been outlined.

However, she said the committee will unveil a new immigration website later this year that will spotlight 10 nationalities and their local communities in St. Louis.

“The website will be a digital support network to help people who move to the area,” Cohen said. “Immigrants live all over the St. louis community and thsi will help them connect with one another and help others considering a move to St. Louis to see the rich communities of their own culture that are here.”

The cost of the website has yet to be finalized and no vendor has been selected, Cohen said.

The branding initiative, which included the development of the St. Louis Mosaic Project name, tagline and logo, was led by Kitty Ratcliffe, president of the St. Louis Convention and Visitors Commission. She said the project’s branding does a good job of mirroring the initiative’s main efforts – building prosperity for the region through immigration.

“We created this brand to be easily identifiable in immigrant communitie, ” said Ratcliffe, who is chair of the steering committee’s communication subcommittee. “In those communities, we will be looking to build involvement in churches, schools and community centers.”

A group outside St. Louis has taken notice of the project’s immigration initiative. Rachel Bronson, vice president of studies with The Chicago Council on Global Affairs, said her group was impressed with St. Louis because leaders have bene able to organize more quickly and effectively than counterparts in other regions.

Building on data and a solid report produced by Jack Strauss, St. Louis’ civic leaders have been able to engage business leaders and economic development groups, gain public support, and hire a project director to drive the project to the next level,” Bronson said.

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